At the time I read Beach House Memories, it was Mary Alice Monroe‘s newest release, a prequel to the 2 other novels in this series (The Beach House and Swimming Lessons). Monroe takes us back to 1974 — before cell phones, before FAX machines, before PCs. She takes us back to the time when most women were what we now call “stay at home moms”. That was a time when, although social changes were sweeping the country, they were slower arriving in the South, particularly Old South cities such as Charleston and Savannah.
Olivia Rutledge (“Lovie”) did what society expected by dropping out of college to marry, then staying home to raise 2 children, and give dinner parties for her unappreciative husband’s business associates. Of course, she eventually came to regret her decisions and to resent Stratton, her oblivious philandering and abusive husband.
Although the story opens in the present day, it quickly returns to 1974, where Lovie relives memories of her life. Having moved back into her beloved family beachhouse, “Primrose Cottage”, Lovie is now dying of cancer, and her daughter, Cara, has moved back to Isle of Palms to care for her. Lovie has always protected and documented the Loggerhead Sea Turtles on Isle of Palms, and this book is full of information about the turtles, and how they are affected by humans whether by accident or by intention as with land development of wilderness areas.
The particular summer she re-lives is the one that visiting biologist Dr. Russell Bennett arrived to study the Loggerheads. Working together with a shared passion for the turtles, a love far more passionate than Lovie has ever known forces her to face her status quo life, and make an agonizing decision.
The author is an authentic “turtle activist” herself. Monroe’s board membership of the Leatherback Trust and her involvement with the Isle of Palms/Sullivan Island Turtle Team gives her voice authenticity when teaching us, through her delightful stories, about the plight of the endangered sea turtles and their amazing capacity for survival.